The Outer Richmond is not a happening neighborhood. Even on an exceptionally sunny afternoon like today, it’s quiet and unassuming, almost immobile in fact. There’s barely a car on the road, or a human in sight. If you were looking for rambunctious adventure, this would be last place in San Francisco you’d go. But somewhere in this sleepy suburb, in a pink house on the corner of 35th and Anza miracles happens, every single day, and they’re orgasmically loud. It’s a place where women come for laughs and self-discovery; for unsuspecting beauty and second chances; for a shot at self-confidence and love. The women who leave here feel happier and sexier, because for the first time in their lives, they get to see their booty and say: “DAYUM!!”
“Shameless was born out of a personal longing,” says Sophie Spinelle, the 34-year old woman responsible for these blatant outbursts of self-appreciation. “It took me a long time to embrace my girly side, and even longer to admit that I wanted to play with glamour. The idea for Shameless emerged because I wished there was a judgement-free zone for people to play dress up and create portraits that make them feel as amazing as any model or superstar.” Sophie and her team of retro photographers have been transforming women’s looks and lives since 2009, even if just for one day. They dress them up, do their make-up and shoot their picture, like justifiably smoking hot pin-ups. Sophie believes “there’s nothing like helping someone access her inner bombshell and let her truer and more powerful self emerge in front of the camera.”
Sophie embodies the retro look to perfection – it’s a daily routine – but it took her a while to fully embrace her inner-chick. “I always wanted to dress like this,” she remembers, “but I held back for a variety of reasons. Growing up in a very laid back Oregon town, I worried about standing out too much among my polar-fleece-and-birkenstock clad friends. I remember that when blowing out the candles on my 4th birthday cake, I insisted on wearing a veiled ’40s hat from my dress-up box. Fire hazard? Yes. But so worth it. Then in my early 20s in the queer scene in New York, I worried about whether I could get a date if I showed how feminine I really was. It wasn’t until my late 20s that I started to genuinely not care what anyone said, and to enjoy how flamboyant and fabulous one’s closet can become if you just give it permission.” She says her style is “confrontationally elegant, radically demure and unapologetically anachronistic.”
The studio is beautifully sunlit and inviting. Sophie brought boxes with hats, gloves and dresses from her extensive vintage collection, some of the most precious things coming straight out of her grandmother’s closet and they all have a story. But the most remarkable tale is her wacky childhood. “My first memories are of going to protests carrying a sign that said “Watermelons not War.” When I was in 4th grade, my parents packed their bags and took my brother and me to live in Siberia. It was 1991, and the USSR was crumbling. They thought anti-Russian propaganda had gotten out of control in the US, and suspected it was the same way in the USSR, that both sides were being primed to think of each other as enemies instead of as human beings. We were the first Americans that most people there had met. Even though I was ten, I received four marriage proposals and many starry-eyed requests for a glimpse at the Levi’s and Barbies they’d heard so much about (neither of which I had). It got down to negative 20 degrees Celsius while we were there, which is pretty typical for Irkutsk in the winter. I never felt too cold, although at one point when we went to visit Lake Baikal, it was so cold that my toy Breyer horse spontaneously snapped off a leg.” Her mom taught American literature and her dad Western art. And once they completed the courses they moved back to the states.
And still I have no clue she’s a lesbian… Until she tells me about her fiancée, “an extraordinary woman”. They’ve been together for four years and plan to marry in August. “I spotted her across the room looking too cool for school like James Dean, and I walked straight up to her and gave her a ridiculous line. Our first date was at 9 AM on a Monday morning – I was playing hard to get. She made me eggs Benedict from scratch (even the muffins!) and I was a goner.” I ask her if it’s fair to call her a Lipstick Lesbian, because that’s what I heard Rosie O’Donnell call her wife. “I do have a label I like to use for myself,” she smiles. “It’s ‘high femme’. I think performing femininity is an art form, a form of expression, and a central part of my life’s work.” She tells me she “had crushes on girls from an early age, and by the time I was an adolescent I was fairly fixated on Agent Scully from the X Files. Women in suits were always my thing.” (That’s funny because I have recently developed a thing for David Duchovny’s juicy lips in Californication, so together we have a “perfect pair of crushes”!) “I can’t tell you how magical it is to have lived to see all the changes in legislation and acceptance of LGBT folks over the last two decades. There’s still more work to do, of course, but outlook is so different from what it was when I was coming of age.” Mazeltov!